Growing up, I always heard adults talking about having to make difficult decisions that they didn't want to make. May it be financial decisions, relationship decisions, or career decisions. As a kid, that didn't make much sense. If adults had ANY power, it was to do whatever they want. It was easy to think that way as a kid. Adults tell you what to do, and they can do whatever they want to do, so life must be easier.
If only that was true? If only I could have my cake and eat it too?!?
Well, a few years ago, I had to make a very difficult adult decision that I didn't want to. As you may know from one of my previous posts, I got my first tech job at IBM and I was doing pretty well. Not only was a progressing from a promotion stand point, but I was enjoying working at IBM and was actually getting a chance to work in Game Development (that's right, Game Development!). But even though, things were going well, some changes within and outside of my control happened, and I realized that I might have to make a decision that I didn't want to; A Decision to leave the Big Blue.
So let me give you a brief backstory on why this was such a difficult decision and why I made this decision even though I did not want to.
NOTE: For the sake of time, I'm going to condense quite a few things that happened. I don't imagine you guys want all the details so, I'll keep it concise. BUT if you do feel you'd like more detail, maybe I can write another blog post or maybe make a video detailing it a bit more. 🤷🏿♂️
This tale all started in June of 2015. Prior to this moment, I had made a pretty large transition in my career (going from a "Degreed" Mechanical Engineer to an aspiring Game developer). As I was working on this transition, I had gotten a lot of good advice, and I decided that I would take a move that would put me in a career path that would be "Career Adjacent" to being in the Game Development industry.
What I mean by "Career Adjacent" is that I would take a job that was not in the Game Development industry BUT a job that would allow me to work on a lot of the skills I would need to be successful in the Game Development Industry. So for me that meant that I wanted to take an entry level programming/coding job that would build my technical and overall development skills.
In June 2015, I was blessed with an entry level Mobile developer position at IBM and I honestly couldn't have been happier. One of the REALLY cool parts of taking the role was that I was going to get a great opportunity to be trained and to learn. In a literal sense, I had the opportunity to take classes (in-person and virtual) and gain certifications before I even started my first true development project. I cannot explain how much of an impact that made on my skill development. And by the time I started working on my first project, I felt incredibly equipped to perform successfully and to be a meaningful member of my project team.
Just a snapshot of one of the 'Design Thinking Workshops' we would hold at the Baton Rouge Center. These were HUGE opportunities to learn new things and connect with people
Over the next two to three years, I grew so much! I learned new technologies, took on new challenges and maybe most impact-fully, I had mentors. Not just development/coding mentors but career mentors; Men and women who I could easily ask any question or share any concern, that would selflessly take time out of their schedule to give me guidance and direction. Honestly, there is almost no way I would be where I am now without the mentors I have had throughout the years.
And as a person who has worked many different type of jobs, mentorship is not the common in the workplace. If I would applaud IBM for one thing, it would be the culture that they create for allowing and encouraging mentorship. To many of the people who helped me, it was almost a no-brainer for them to pour into me, and IBM as corporation lauded their efforts and made it easy for them to do so.
Along with mentorship and career/skill development, I had stumbled upon one of the greatest gifts while taking the "career adjacent" opportunity; Game Development!! Yes, while working at IBM as a Mobile Developer, I was able to for more than a year, work full-time on game development projects. There is soooo much I could say on this period of time and how much joy it brought me, but for now I will leave it at that.
One of the many prototypes I made during my game dev project. This was an Augmented Reality based project. This tech was eventually used in full length AR experience
Side Note: Now that I am writing this blog, I feel like maybe I should share the tale of how this happened and all the interesting people I was able to work alongside and the projects and technologies I was able to work with. 🤔
Though I was really enjoying working in Game Dev full-time and was doing a ton, I was realizing some hard truths about my career aspirations and the things I may need to do to accomplish my ultimate career goals.
The most significant hard truth was me coming to the realization on how growth in our lives really works. I will actually use a great quote from the former CEO of IBM, Ginny Rommety, because I think she expresses it beautifully:
"I learned to always take on things I'd never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist" - Ginny Rommety
Now the interesting thing was that, early into my career at IBM, I recall someone sharing this quote with me but at the time, it didn't really click. But as I was doing what I love, Game Development, at a company that has truly treated me so well, I realized I was comfortable. Not only was I comfortable, I wasn't challenging myself and I wasn't allowing myself to be truly challenged.
I think this realization really hit me when having a regular check-up with my manager at the time, Dean.
Side Note: Dean was one of the BEST managers I have EVER had. He's an absolute Boss in the best way
Dean, one of my former managers, wearing a jerseys of his "favorite team" after they beat his Saints. The picture on the right is me doing a favor for him as the Falcons have NEVER lost to the Saints!😅
Dean was just asking me general questions about how my current project was going and seeing how I was feeling. Dean knew I really enjoyed working on the project because I was doing game development, but I think Dean also knew that I wasn't growing. As we spoke Dean said something that really changed my perspective and took me back a bit. He said something along the lines of, "Sounds like you're really enjoying the project. Do you feel like your gaining new skills that will help you in your future?".
Now... If you recall what I said earlier, game development was my main goal in even taking a programming job so naturally the answer had to be "Yes". But as I took an honest moment to consider his question, something dawned on me; something I'm sure Dean already knew.
That even though I was doing what I WANTED, I wasn't gaining the skills and experience that I NEEDED!! 🤯
Like one of those flashback from a movie where the person remembers all small things another character said that revealed the secret they were always looking for, the question shook something loose. It made it clear to me that though I was doing game development and enjoying the moment, that when the moment passed, I might not have the skills I needed to excel in the future.
So what do I mean by that?
Essentially, what I was doing was too comfortable. I develop these games, I could take on these "creative projects" but I wasn't really advancing my skills. As many of you probably already know, the technology industry, which game development is a part of, evolves quickly. And the skills that I was using at the time, were not evolving with the industry around me.
The best way to put it, is that if for some reason, if I were to have lost my job at the moment, I probably would have found it very difficult to find another job with the skills I possessed.
So with that realization now uncovered, Dean and I discussed a plan of me moving away from this particular project (though I enjoyed what I was doing), to allow me to gain skills that I needed to progress in my career long term. To take on a role that made me uncomfortable so that I really could grow.
At this point, things were looking up. I had direction, I had come to some great realizations, and I had the support system to push me to the goals I had.
But two things occurred that would eventually make me make the difficult decision to leave IBM and pursue other opportunities.
NOTE: So... as a lot of things go in my life, there is a long story behind these events. At this juncture, I won't get into the details for the sake of time, but essentially these are the two events happened that brought me to this "career precipice".
The first was that the project(s) that I had comfortably been working on for quite a long time was coming to an end and simultaneously disallowed me from joining a project that might have been a good fit for me career progression. There are a lot of nuances to what happened but it put me in an odd place.
Essentially, there was another project that I was planning to join (non-game development) but because of some miscommunications, I was unable to leave my game development project to join it. But because the game development project was ending in the near future, I was not going to have a new project to move to after it was done. So because of the timing of all of these events, I was in a weird space without a project to work on.
The second was that around the same time, it just so happened projects with the particular skills I wanted to grow (mobile skills) were becoming few and far between. And that meant there was a chance that I might end up joining a project where I'd be gaining new skills and growing but not necessarily in the direction I was aiming for.
With the combinations of those two things, my next decisions were going to be tough.
So after my game development project ended, me and Dean discussed what was next and we found a project that seemed like a good fit for me and would give me the experience that I was looking for. Unfortunately, it ended up that the project wouldn't need me in the capacity I was hoping for and that I would be transitioning into a completely different, non-development role; a role as a business analyst.
At the time, I was thinking to myself:
"Now there is nothing wrong with being a Business Analyst. No, it's not what I've been doing and not what I'm really going for in the long run BUT there is a chance I'll get back into development work in the future. And you never know, I might be good at being a Business Analyst. Matter of fact, given the circumstances, This role will be pretty comfortable..."
And that word popped up again; Comfortable.
Was I just doing the same thing again? Pursuing comfort over growth? Was I taking the easy route in order to keep things the way that they were?
I knew the answer to that question and I bet as you read this now, you know what the answer was too.
So in a bold step, knowing the circumstances and that I would be on this "comfortable" project if I stayed with IBM, I began to look for another job outside of IBM.
Not long after looking, I found an opportunity with a start-up and took the position.
I specifically remember having a conversation with Dean about why I was leaving and if there any way I would consider staying and I remember having to say there wasn't any. I remember saying it had nothing to do with IBM, or the people, but that it was about me pursuing what was best for me career-wise. It was such a tough decision because of all of the friendships I had made, the bonds I had formed, and skills I had learned. IBM had really been the place where I had "grown-up" as a professional. And now I had to go.
Some pictures from those years at IBM. So many great memories and awesome friends made along the way
It was a hard decision, but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, it was the right decision.
Though it was a farewell to all that I had come to know, it was the beginning of a new chapter in my career journey. But you know what? Life had a funny way of working things out and as of this writing, I am back at IBM. I guess things came back full circle. 😁
Thanks for reading my story!
All the best on your future endeavors,
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Cover Photo: Stock Image provided by Frameangel, from Pond5